An important contribution to the discussion of American race relations

Each day leading up to the April 14 announcement of the Minnesota Book Awards, we highlight one of the thirty-two finalists. Today we feature 2012 General Nonfiction Finalist:

Punishing Race: A Continuing American Dilemma
Michael Tonry

Oxford University Press

Category Sponsor: Minnesota AFL-CIO


This book relates why it is that African American men are arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned at a much higher rate than the population at large. Michael Tonry explains that these patterns result not from racial differences in crime or drug use but from drug and crime control policies that disproportionately affect African Americans.

An excerpt from Punishing Race:

Four aspects of American crime control policies stand out: the world’s highest imprisonment rate, the Western world’s only use of capital punishment, the Western world’s most severe punishments short of death, and the devastating effects of those policies on black Americans. Black men for a quarter century have been five to seven times more likely than white men to be in prison, are much more likely to receive decades-long sentences or life without the possibility of parole and are much likelier to be on death row.


Michael Tonry, among the nation’s leading authorities on crime and punishment, is a professor of law and public policy at the University of Minnesota.


“Without a doubt, an important contribution to the discussion of American race relations.”
– Minnesota Book Awards judge

“I read strictly nonfiction, and much of that is pretty heavy or otherwise shocking stuff. Even so, this is the most eye-opening read I’ve had in my several years as a Minnesota Book Awards judge.”
– Minnesota Book Awards judge

“Michael Tonry’s discussion and explanation of the racial disparities in prison, including black arrests for drug offenses, will change the way we think about fairness in our criminal justice system. Punishing Race is replete with original insights on how contemporary crime and drug policies have been shaped by a political climate that reflects America’s unique history of race relations. Tonry documents the adverse racial effects of these policies and shows how they can be changed to do less unnecessary future harm to African Americans. This authoritative book is a must read.”
-William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University


In this Q&A session with The Crime Report, Tonry talks about his reasons for writing a book on race and the criminal justice system and the importance of drugs to his central thesis.


Award winners will be announced at the 24th Annual Minnesota Book Awards Gala on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel – Saint Paul Riverfront. The opening reception begins at 7 p.m. followed by the awards ceremony at 8 p.m. New this year: a post-awards “Epilogue Celebration.” Tickets are available online or by calling 651-222-3242. Click here for more information.

Have you read Punishing Race? What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments!


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